Voyeurism. The term comes from the French voyeur, which means "one who looks". Add the hashtag and now your subject of interest can trend on social media, index in search engines and unite you with others wanting to gobble up the same guilty pleasure. Murder is the planned, intentional act ending the life of another human being. Put them all together and add a sprinkling of bitter, enraged sociopathic journalist:
and you have the gut wrenching tragedy of #WDBJ.
I am sickened. Astounded. Horrified. Not just about the bat shit crazy ranting and senseless killings of reporter Bryce Williams aka Vester Lee Flanagan - but by the social media frenzy he knew would explode when he started planning these murders a year ago.
I worked in television news for six years. During that time I prided myself on getting the story out first, getting ahold of the best video and getting the most heart wrenching interviews. I shot it, wrote it, voiced it, posted it, tweeted it and shared it. Then, I submitted it for Emmy nominations as some sort of blue ribbon of achievement validating my career as a reporter.
When I first watched Flanagan's go-pro video – the first thing I noticed was that he stood there and waited for the photographer to pan back to Alison before he fired. He waited patiently, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the photog got the cue in his IFB to pan back and go wide on the shot. Because he knew the process and he wanted it live. He waited for Ward to zoom out to just the angle he had envisioned. Then he adjusted the go-pro to record his murderous POV and slaughtered those two innocent people.
He also knew what would happen next.
Flanagan fled the scene. He wasn’t worried about being caught or identified because he was already planning on both of those things happening. He was most concerned with reporting on the story. His morbid story. He filmed it, edited it, wrote it, posted it, tweeted it and shared it. And just as he knew they would, thousands of journalists gobbled it up. Just as he knew they would, millions of people shared it. Just as he knew we would, we were captivated by his evil.
There has to be a line we don’t cross. Do you realize that now forever, emblazoned for eternity in the search results of every search engine, those two innocent lives will be relentlessly exploited and branded by the actions of that evil sonofabitch. Parker and Ward’s mothers, grandfathers, former teachers, mentors, friends will live with the live video images of their deaths running over and over in their minds. The sounds of Parker's terrified screams will echo in their nightmares.
Flanagan pulled the trigger, but we did this.
Our society, the field of journalism as a whole, needs to make a change. We must stop tolerating the exploitation of life for the simple sake of a retweet or a like. Or ratings. Or Emmys. This whole thing has me questioning the creed of news I had believed so strongly. Gruesome sells. Horrifying sells. Scandalous sells.
But at what cost?
News is supposed to help people. Inform them so they can protect their families and make responsible decisions. Keep politicians honest and voters knowledgable. But as long as news is a profitable industry funded by clicks and views, management will be motivated to tell the stories that shock, horrify and unravel the private lives of people because we all can't quit staring.
My heart breaks for #WDBJ and for the loved ones of Alison and Adam.